When the Great Southern Hotel opened in Mulranny, rail travel was king.
The year was 1897, the Westport to Achill line was full steam ahead, and word soon spread about the resort’s line in coastal luxury. Shortly after it opened, a combined railway and hotel ticket was available. Within a decade, guests were being pampered not just with electric light, but hot baths too.
The golden age couldn’t last forever, of course. By 1937, a mushrooming road network had forced the famous railway to close. The hotel carried on for decades, before following suit in the early 1990s. For some 15 years, Mulranny’s grand dame lay in hibernation, a spectre on a hill.
So what awaits the visitor today? A happy surprise – that’s what.
The Westport to Achill line has been reborn as the Great Western Greenway cycling trail. The Great Southern has metamorphosed into the Mulranny Park Hotel, a classy mix of heritage and modern detail. You pull up by a Victorian façade – but inside, there’s a 20m pool, a savvy chef, and confident design touches playing off the ocean and woodland surroundings. The story has come full circle.
The first time I arrived at Mulranny Park Hotel was a short couple of years ago, by nightfall. With darkness descending, the Victorian brickwork struck me with as moody, looming large over the road on its hilly perch. I parked the car, lugged my wheelie case up the driveway to the front door, and pushed it open to a very welcome winter sight– a roaring turf fire.
The last time I arrived was by bike, in a thumping shower of rain. Peeling off the waterproofs, I stepped inside to… another roaring turf fire. Comforting bookshelves, a model currach and an exhibition of art by the local Greenway Artists made the place feel calm and rooted. I’m not surprised the hotel features in both Bridgestone’s Top 100 restaurant and places to stay for 2012.
There are 41 rooms at Mulranny, in addition to 20 apartment suites. Standard and deluxe options provide a mix of sea and woodland views, and all come with mineral water, flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. Mine overlooked Mulranny Bay. With sash windows and aubergine curtains, citrus-green chairs and striped cushions picking up the tones, it felt both old and new.
Here’s a tip. If you’re booking on the phone, request the John Lennon suite. Lennon and Yoko Ono stayed at the hotel in June of 1968, when he apparently treated guests to a pre-release rendition of ‘Revolution’ on the lawn. The suite boasts bay views, photos of John and Yoko, and retro cappuccino-and-cream styling. Right now, it’s priced exactly the same as the deluxe rooms.
Head Chef at the Mulranny Park Hotel is Ollie O’Regan. His Nephin Restaurant has two AA Rosettes, but it’s refreshingly unstuffy. Rusty-red leather seats, earthy green curtains, a large model yacht and views over Mulranny Bay all give an elegant, airy feel. It works just as well if you’re gobbling hot sausages for breakfast or delighting over an unexpected amuse-bouche at dinner.
Speaking of dinner, a three-course set menu is priced at €37.50. Dishes with a firm focus on local ingredients include a nettle and potato soup, Clew Bay scallops with glazed pork belly, and a grilled loin of Nephin lamb, served with a drift of smoked celeriac and pearl onion jus.
Cleary, midnight oil has been burned forming the activity schedule in Mulranny. Themed breaks are a feature – there’s a special for bridge players in March, for instance, and family packages in April include games, discos and activities like magic shows and Disney badge-making at the Wild Woollies Kids’ Club. You could also sign up for a bread-making class, or a day-trip to Achill.
The 20m pool is a decent size, with lots of woggles and toys for younger guests. The Canadian hot tub feels a bit surreal standing over the car park, but it’s a fine place to wallow and watch the sun go down over Clew Bay. There are Health & Beauty Rooms and an on-site hair salon too.
What to do…
The Great Western Greenway, a 42km cycle trail running along the old narrow-gauge railway line from Achill to Westport, runs right directly behind the hotel. Bikes can be delivered to the door, and with that, you can head west towards the island, or east towards Newport.
Opened just last June, the trail still feels fresh from the packet. It has its own dedicated bridges, a good, gravel surface and, because it’s almost entirely off-road, traffic is not a problem. If you do take a spin, I’d recommend cycling over the Currane Peninsula for Achill – it’s stunning.
Another old piece of Victorian infrastructure worth exploring is the beautiful little causeway stretching from the shoreline in front of the hotel across Trawoughter Bay. Crossing the grassy path here takes you to a storm beach on the shores of Clew Bay, and some gorgeous views of Croagh Patrick.
For more see discoverireland.ie/mayo; greenway.ie and achilltourism.com.
The bottom line…
Two nights B&B, one evening meal, one day’s bike hire and one packed lunch are available from €149pps. Contact 098 36000; mulrannyparkhotel.ie.
Anything to add…
If you like your food, you’ll love the Gourmet Greenway. Devised by the hotel alongside local producers, it showcases artisan food along the old Achill to Westport line. Much of the produce you’ll find on the menu in the Nephin Restaurant, but it adds a whole layer of fun and discovery to go seek them out yourself. Kelly’s butchers in Newport, Jerry Hassett’s Keem Bay Smokehouse, and Carrowholly cheese, which you can buy at the markets in Westport, are just three.
This review originally appeared in The Irish Examiner.